ES_Ch 5

Chapter 5: Transitioning to Life After High School

After 12th grade, individuals with learning and attention issues will only receive accommodations in college or the workplace if they disclose their disabilities. But many students leave high school without the self-awareness, self-advocacy skills or self-confidence to successfully navigate their new independence and seek out support when needed.

College enrollment and completion

Success in college and the workplace is heavily influenced by internal resilience factors such as temperament and self-perception. Low self-esteem and stigma help explain why young adults with learning disabilities—who are as smart as their peers—enroll in four-year colleges at half the rate of all young adults. Lack of self-advocacy and self-regulation skills may explain why students with learning disabilities who attend any type of postsecondary school are less likely to graduate than students without disabilities.

Lack of disclosure

Stigma and other factors deter many undergraduates from accessing key resources in college, where only one-fourth of students with learning disabilities disclose that they have a disability. Reasons for low disclosure rates may include:

  • Wanting to establish an identity independent of disability status
  • Shame or fear of being perceived as lazy or unintelligent
  • Underestimating how important accommodations are to their academic success
  • Not knowing what kinds of disability services are available in college or not having the paperwork needed to access them


Working-age adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to be jobless as their peers who do not have disabilities. Stigma, low rates of college completion, and lack of awareness about workplace accommodations may all contribute to difficulty attaining employment and succeeding in the workplace. Research shows:

  • 19% of young adults with learning disabilities reported that their employers were aware of their disability
  • 5% of young adults with learning disabilities reported that they were receiving accommodations in the workplace

Self-advocacy and other factors that help students stay in college can be taught, practiced and supported. To ask for and receive accommodations in college and the workplace, young adults must not only understand their needs but also be able to explain them to others. Developing K–12 and community-based programs that provide more opportunities to work on self-advocacy skills—and the confidence to use them—will contribute greatly to social and emotional well-being, academic success and career readiness.

Transition planning is critical to preparing students with disabilities for life after high school. New research shows that when transition plans specify the accommodations students will need in college, the odds of students seeking and using postsecondary supports increase significantly.

Recent changes in standardized testing like the SAT and legislative proposals like the RISE Act, which was introduced in December 2016, may remove barriers to receiving accommodations and increase college and workforce opportunities for students with disabilities.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which became law in 2014, provides pre-employment transition planning, job training and employment services for students with disabilities, including those with 504 plans.


Psychology major Savannah Treviño-Casias describes in this blog how she responded when her professor refused to accommodate her dyscalculia.


North Carolina’s College STAR—which is short for Supporting Transition, Access and Retention—helps keep students on a path to graduation.